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'Spike And Mike's 2002 Classic Festival Of Animation'

Dark themes line up with the light in animation fest

Friday, May 10, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

My, but we are a gloomy bunch today, animators.

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RATING: Unrated; contains some mature themes and some cartoon violence.




Death, angst, caged birds, hair nits, harridan wives, crippled fathers, rejected 'toons who make the "South Park" kids look like choir boys -- these are just a few of the treats awaiting us in the latest edition of the venerable "Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation," now at the Harris Theater.

Don't worry, you get used to it. You might even find some hope or at least some humanity among the ruins. There are a few laughs along the way, not all of them sardonic. And things lighten up, literally and figuratively, toward the end, with some Oscar-winning birds on a wire flying in for the finale.

"For the Birds," the simple but funny Pixar computer-animated short that accompanied "Monsters Inc." in theaters, is not the only Spike and Mike entry this year that boasts an Academy Award. "Father and Daughter," by Michael Dudok De Wit, is a beautifully minimalist work of color and shadow about a girl who returns every year to the spot where her father left her, hoping to be reunited.

Loss is also the theme of "Brother," by Adam Elliot, a dark, nits-and-all claymation tribute to the filmmaker's sibling. "The Man With the Beautiful Eyes," by Jonathan Hodgson, is a fable about the discovery of something exceptional and how it hides away from a jealous world.

Don Hertzfeldt gets the only warning label in the festival for "Rejected," which purports to show a series of perverse cartoons commissioned -- and rejected -- by various clients including a cable TV channel and a food packager. They have nothing to do with the product and go out of their way to be bloody. But we find that even 'toons have their own version of hell.

The most interestingly quirky animation in the bunch is "Drink," by Patrick Smith of the United States, in which a young man quaffs a strange beverage and opens up parts of himself that he never imagined.

High culture is represented in two very different pieces: "The Last Drawing of Canaletto," by Cameron McNall, a wondrous blending of painting, light, 3-D computer graphics and music; and "Insect Poetry," Marilyn Zornado's tribute to the written word in which bugs read their own rhymes.

And then there are the funny ones. "Europe and Italy," by Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto, demonstrates how his countrymen differ from other Europeans -- let's just say temperament has a lot to do with it. "Metropopular" gives various American cities their own very apt cartoon personalities. "Hello, Dolly!" has a clever take on the reasons why its protagonist cannot get to sleep. "Ill Communication" shows what happens when misstatement meets misunderstanding.

Some entries deserve a warning for settling for too little, including two opening pieces with similar themes: "Caged Birds Cannot Fly," the highlight of which is a claymation bird imitating other cartoon characters, and "The Pigeon and the Onion Pie," which promises more than it delivers. In "Little Milosh," Jakub Pistecky gives us what seems like a version of an old children's song about a goat, a clothesline and a railroad track but throws in a fearsome female figure for good measure.

Actually, whole portions of this year's "Spike and Mike" festival qualify as fearsome. The moods probably could have been mixed a little better. But things could have been worse. At least this isn't the other Spike and Mike fest, the one that bills itself as "sick and twisted." In that one, we'd happily take fearsome.

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